A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on Friday rejected computer-generated exhibits sought to be tendered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against Dr Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) over alleged N544 million fraud.
Mr Lawal is being prosecuted alongside his younger brother, Hamidu Lawal and others on a 10-count charge, bordering on diversion of funds and criminal conspiracy to the tune of N544million (five hundred and forty-four million naira).
The EFCC had sought to tender the evidence through its 8th prosecution witness (PW8) Dare Folarin, an operative of the commission but were strongly opposed by the defence counsel.
What happened in court
Mr Ofem Uket, EFCC’s counsel applied before the court to tender the computer-generated exhibits as evidence.
Akin Olujimi (SAN) opposed the application on the grounds that the exhibits sought to be tendered are the same ones that had earlier been rejected by the court. He prayed the court to reject the exhibits that the anti-graft agency seeks to tender.
Counsel to the third defendant, Mr Napoleon Idelana, told the court that the EFCC had already filed an appeal at the court of appeal Abuja seeking the appellate against the decision of the trial court rejecting its exhibits.
Mr Uket prayed the court to discountenance the defendants’ objection.
The presiding judge, Justice Charles Agbaza held that the exhibits had been marked rejected by the court when EFCC tendered them last year and any oral evidence of the EFCC’s witness on the rejected exhibits would amount to hearsay.
“I have carefully examined the foundation of arguments for and against the admissibility of the exhibits in dispute and found only two issues for determination.
“The first issue is on whether the evidence of the prosecution witness falls on hearsay in respect of the exhibits while the second issue is on whether this court has once rejected the exhibits sought to be tendered.
“On issue one, the witness on his own informed the court of how he was invited into the EFCC laboratory and was shown information extracted from an iPhone 7.
“On this, I am satisfied that the witness is not the maker of the exhibits in dispute. They were only shown to him according to his oral evidence here.
“Therefore, anything said or to be said by the witness is nothing but hearsay and for this reason, I resolve this issue in favour of the defendants.
“On the second issue, there is no dispute that the exhibits were earlier sought to be tendered but they were turned down and marked rejected and even, the rejection is a subject of appeal at the Court of Appeal.
“For this reason, I agree that the exhibits cannot be admitted having been earlier rejected and marked rejected” the judge ruled.
The court could not proceed with the matter because PW8 who was supposed to continue with his evidence-in-chief was not present in court as he was indisposed.
The matter was adjourned until February 16 and 17 for the continuation of the trial.
What you should know
- The defendants were first arraigned on February 12, 2019, before Justice Jude Okeke. They pleaded not guilty to the charges proffered against them by the EFCC.
- They were re-arraigned before Justice Agbaza on November 30, 2020, after the demise of Justice Okeke who had been hearing the matter.
- On January 24, 2021 exhibits sought to be tendered by EFCC were rejected by the same court. Yesterday’s trial makes it the second time the court is rejecting EFCC’s exhibits.
- Mr Lawal was appointed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation by President Muhammadu Buhari on August 27, 2015.
- On April 19, 2017, he was suspended by Mr Buhari and was relieved of his duties in October same year.
- Other defendants included are Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh Monday, and two companies, Rholavision Engineering (fifth defendant) and Josmon Technologies (sixth defendant).